Coalitions in Action – Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition Engages Faith-Based Sector in Community Change

Tuscarawas County is located within the east central region of the state of Ohio and characterized as Appalachian,” said Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition’s Director of Substance Use Prevention Services Jodi Salvo. “The county includes many small communities with 10 school districts and 12 police departments. Of the total population, 25% are under the age of 18. Just 85% of residents have a high school diploma and a mere 15% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Approximately 13% of residents live below the federal poverty level (a 4% increase over the past five years), with 22% of children living in poverty. According to Ohio Kids Count data sponsored by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 51% of children in Tuscarawas County are enrolled in Medicaid. The current unemployment rate for the county is 5%, and the median family income is $46,992.”

“The Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition (TCADC) convened in April of 2011 to reduce and prevent youth substance use,” said Salvo. “The coalition serves all of Tuscarawas County and it is a well-known and respected organization in the county. The coalition’s mission is to “Unite Tuscarawas County citizens and stakeholders to prevent youth substance use and misuse by identifying and implementing effective prevention strategies” and the vision is “Empowered youth living healthy, drug-free lives.” 

“Due to the rural nature of Tuscarawas County, youth often report experimenting with drugs and alcohol out of boredom,” said Salvo. “Hotspots have been identified in the county that have increased challenges around substance use, and they occur in areas that are remote and have decreased access to county resources- in particular our small, rural Appalachian communities.”

“Impacting Tuscarawas County as a whole, Ohio legalized medical marijuana in June of 2016, which appears to have increased the belief among local youth that marijuana is not harmful,” said Salvo. “Many Tuscarawas residents (including youth) work in fields such as manufacturing and farming which can lead to injury and long-term self-medicating through the use of painkillers. Law enforcement officials from around the county are reporting increased citations for alcohol and drug related events, traffic violations, driving while under the influence and an increase in domestic violence. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S. in 2017. In 2016, 4,329 Ohioans died of unintentional drug overdoses. Rural communities, such as Tuscarawas County, have been hit hard with prescription medication misuse, leading to heroin addiction.”

“The TCADC has worked diligently to mobilize Tuscarawas County’s faith sector to be a part of the solution to substance use disorder and youth substance use,” said Salvo. “This goal has been met with great enthusiasm and success in our county. In 2019, the coalition held its second annual Hope Sunday event on Sunday, Sept. 29, coinciding with National Recovery Month. This event invited every church in Tuscarawas County to show a four-minute video challenging the faith community to meet the hurting and addicted in our communities where they are at and love them into a place of wholeness. The video was created in collaboration with a local media company. The TCADC provided all participating churches with flash drives containing the video, bulletins for every congregation member, and complete scripts for pastors. In 2018, more than 70 churches participated; in 2019, there were over 100.” 

“We expect Hope Sunday to grow each year,” said Salvo. “In fact, faith leaders have already scheduled their first planning meeting in April for Hope Sunday 2020. This year’s event will focus on how the faith community can provide protective factors to support the youth of Tuscarawas County to make healthy and drug-free lifestyle choices. The TCADC understands that churches can play an instrumental role in the lives of people struggling with addiction and in the prevention of youth substance use. By engaging the faith community, the TCADC has effectively mobilized a sector that has the ability to greatly assist in making community-level change.”

“Achieving our goal of engaging the faith sector began with developing our strategic and action plans, including the identification and collection of crucial information such as community norms, community protective factors, risk factors, and assessment data,” said Salvo. “After conducting our community assessment, we identified that a large population of our county residents attend church or utilize church programming. We identified that the church had the ability to greatly increase protective factors with our youth and could create an avenue for us to reach adults. Therefore, we placed a great deal of effort in engaging our faith community. Our faith sector representative then engaged pastors from all denominations around the county to learn more about prevention, addiction, and recovery. We hosted two pastor’s briefing for faith leaders to learn more.”

“The faith community is now starting to work with the coalition on other initiatives, including disseminating drug deactivation bags, promoting proper medication disposal through take-back days and the use of permanent drop-off locations,” said Salvo. “Ministerial associations throughout the county are now assisting with promoting our social hosting campaign ‘Parents Who Host Lose the Most’ by placing yard signs throughout the county. Churches are also inviting the coalition to provide education and skill-building sessions, as well as inviting the coalition to have resource booths at church events.”

“Our advice to other coalitions is the more focused you are in your efforts, the more successful you will be as a coalition,” said Salvo. “Prior to attending the CADCA National Coalition Academy (NCA), our coalition’s efforts were more global in approach. Since attending the NCA, we have now seen the benefit of focusing on identified areas of priority, such as building capacity in the faith sector. We are now leveraging this sector, as they have the potential to reach a large population in our county. This was a major change for our coalition, and we are experiencing measurable success working in this new way. We have also found CADCA’s training resources and the CADCA Community to be extremely beneficial in assisting our coalition as we learn and grow.”

“We will be attending CADCA’s Mid-Year Training Institute this summer,” said Salvo. “We are hoping to bring back information about building capacity with the business sector, as that will be our next area of focus. We are also interested in learning how to best prepare and protect our county from recreational marijuana legalization, as there are current attempts to place this issue on the November ballot.”